*Our Country, The Gambia
I woke up earlier than usual. Way too early, my mom would tell you. On any other Sunday, I would be sulking if anyone dared to interrupt my precious minutes of sleep. This day, however, was an exception. I was up before anyone else in the house. I might even be right to say I hadn’t caught any sleep the previous night. My tiny 11-year old body was filled with so much excitement and my family could not wait for the day to end so I could go back to being ‘Jama the introvert/bookworm’. I rushed to my mom’s room to make sure my uniform was void of creases. I’d taken a lot of time the night before to iron it, making sure the pleats were neatly folded and the hemlines flat. My shoes were shining with excess polish and my snow-white socks were still in their packet. The green and white ribbons to match with my uniform lay on the table, waiting to be tied in a butterfly knot and attached to my neat corn-rows. I ran to the bathroom and hurriedly took a cold shower. ‘I’ll not be late’, I kept repeating to myself. It was only 6a.m; three hours before the event was scheduled to start. Weeks of preparation, excitement, anxiety, curiosity and tiring yet interesting rehearsals had finally come to an end. I had mastered the ‘left, left, right’ and I was ready to turn my ‘Eyeees Right‘ and then ‘Eyeees Front‘. I was ready to march proudly past the President of my country, clad in my beautiful St Joseph’s Ex-Pupils’ Primary School uniform and singing along to the beautiful music from the Army Band. I was also hoping to appear on National Television, swinging my arms like the uniformed soldiers, just so my family back home could say ‘laa Jama mungi nii’. It was February 18th, 2001. It was The Gambia’s 36th Independence Anniversary!
Eleven years on, we celebrate the 47th anniversary today. The excitement is nothing like it used to be. The fun of preparing for Independence is no longer felt. The march past at the Independence Stadium in Bakau had gradually given way to smaller versions in the regional mini-stadiums. The keynote address usually given out by the President is now read in all the regions by the Mayors or Commissioners. The Army Band is now divided into units for the major regions or represented by the Boy Scouts. The thrill and excited chatter from the hundreds of pupils present have died down to just audible murmurs. The Public holiday is now used to lounge at home and spending the day at the stadium is now seen as unnecessary. The sports event in the evening is barely there now. The number of spectators have diminished over the years; athletes too. I look back at all these and that nostalgic feeling engulfs me. I thought of my 11-year old cousin today and wondered if the celebrations meant anything to her. A part of me felt sorry that she could not enjoy the beauty of Independence; that she couldn’t go through that phase of pride and excitement of being a Primary 5 pupil, selected to march past the President of the Republic. I hoped that, at least, she would know the significance of the day. That got me thinking even further and I was left wondering what Independence really meant to us. Was it just the fun that lasted the whole day or the reflections on the struggle for our liberty and self-governance?
When the clock struck midnight yesterday I sent out a tweet wishing all Gambians a happy anniversary and praying that peace, progress and prosperity be forever ours. I proceeded to listen to the National Anthem on replay for about 20 minutes. For some reason I still can’t put a finger to, my eyes welled up and my emotions got the better of me. I sent the link to the anthem to my ‘followers’ and asked all the Gambians to listen carefully to the words. Tweets about how proud I was of my country and how much I was ready to do for her followed. At some point, I thought I was exaggerating but quickly dismissed that. I can never do enough for my country and that was a fact I had to accept. When I first came to Morocco, people would see me and immediately conclude that I’m Senegalese, because of my height and dark skin tone. The few who took the time to question me would be surprised and even disbelieve me when I told them I am Gambian. Sometimes, they would ask, ‘What country is that?’ Each time someone asks me that, I feel sad knowing I would have to use another country as a reference for my country to be recognised. I thought about how we were not known world-wide; how people would normally confuse Gambia for Zambia; how small we were as a Nation; how much work we still had to do to make it to the top. It has been 47 years and I can only ask ‘how much better-off are we?’
Since Independence in 1965, we have seen much development, albeit slow as compared to neighboring countries. We’ve seen a rise in infrastructural development with the construction of roads, bridges and other public amenities. The maintenance of these facilities , however, raises eyebrows and makes one wonder if we’re really moving forward. Health facilities have become more accessible with the presence of hospitals and health centers in all regions of the country. The services rendered at these centers still need improvement. The lack of adequate and modern equipment in most of the hospitals dampens the spirits and efficiency takes a backseat. Education has taken a step forward with the increase in the number of schools and the creation of the University of The Gambia. The system however still has a lot of room for improvement and we can only hope that the concerned authorities review it before it gets worse. The number of graduates from the University increases each year, putting a strain on the job market and eventually, increasing the unemployment rate. We’ve also witnessed the creation of a television station and an increase in the number of radio stations and newspapers since Independence. The media department still has a long way to go and I would say education is the first step. My concern in this area is justified by my proximity with it. I hope to see a Gambia where the media serves as a very important tool in informing the citizens and inhabitants about EVERYTHING happening in the country. Recently, I’ve noticed a positive change in the quality of programs on GRTS and I can only hope the trend continues climbing the hill. A lot of work still needs to be done, but the light at the end of the tunnel is seemingly drawing closer. Economic growth, good governance and democracy,respect for the rule of law, concerted efforts towards development etc are steps that can never lead us to the wrong road. It is time Gambians stood up for what is ours and steer our country to prosperous waters. The Government is there to lead the people, but it is the duty of every citizen to make The Gambia what we want it to be. I have more hope in my country now than ever before. I know a lot of young people who are driven by the desire to put the country on the world map. The entertainment industry is also taking slow but sure steps towards world recognition. The only way for us is FORWARD. NYAATO DORONG
My head is full of thoughts about all the services I want to render to my country. I can only hope and pray that every single Gambian is driven by that desire to make our country greater than its size. We have peace and are the nicest people on Earth. The country is called ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’ for a reason. We should endeavour to live up to our name and the hospitality for which we are recognised. Our freedom fighters should be able to look down, see The Gambia and not regret their battles for Independence. It is our responsibility to continue from where they stopped and make sure the Gambia we hand over to the next generation is better than the one we received. I have a dream that very soon, we shall overcome our difficulties, rise above the challenges and take our rightful place in the world. Together we can do this. The ‘Progress, Peace and Prosperity’ that make up our motto shall be maintained and together we shall chant our victory song. ‘For The Gambia our homeland…To The Gambia, ever true’.
HAPPY 47th INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY TO ALL GAMBIANS AND FRIENDS OF THE GAMBIA!!!